At the beginning of the 20th century, when 12-string guitars first appeared in the United States, the instruments were considered novelty items, curiosities, freaks of guitar making that were beneath the dignity of serious companies like Martin and Gibson. But when Blind Willie McTell picked up a Stella 12-string in 1927, and then basically never put it down, the instrument was suddenly legitimized.
A folk singer named Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Lead Belly, had actually made the Stella 12-string his own earlier, in 1912, but Lead Belly had so many scrapes with the law and spent so much time in prison that he wouldn’t get a chance to popularize the ringing tones of the 12-string until the 1930s and ’40s. Even then, his biggest hit, “Good Night Irene,” came after his death in 1949.
Pete Seeger and the Weavers kept the 12-string sound alive until the 1960s, when groups like the Rooftop Singers (“Walk Right In”) made it the go-to instrument on the commercial folk scene. Gibson was ready with its B-45 in 1961 and its B-25 in 1962, while Martin got on board a bit later with its D12-20 in 1964 and D12-35 in 1965.
The loudest noise in 12-strings, though, was made by Rickenbacker, thanks to a custom, one-of-a-kind 12-string version of its 325 hollowbody electric guitar made in 1964 for John Lennon of the Beatles. George Harrison also became a Rickenbacker acolyte, playing his Rickenbacker 360 12-string on songs like "A Hard Day’s Night."
One musician who liked that sound a lot was Roger McGuinn of the Byrds. Reportedly, he bought a 360-12 after seeing the movie named after of the famous Beatles song. He went on to play a 12-string on one of the Byrds’ biggest hits, “Turn Turn Turn.”
By the late 1970s, newer companies like Taylor made acoustic 12-strings part of their lines. Once again, a key musician would cement the instrument's sound in our collective soundtrack. In this case it was Neil Young who, while vacationing in Florida, purchased a Taylor 12-string, an 855, at a local music shop. Young liked his 855 so much he ordered a second, and Taylor subsequently gained widespread recognition when Young’s 855 figured prominently in his concert film, "Rust Never Sleeps."
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This Saturday in live music: Tyler, The Creator, Pine Hill Haints & moreCreative Loafing Tampa, April 25th
The Pine Hill Haints with Serious Sam Barrett Self-styled purveyors of “Alabama Ghost Music” The Pine Hill Haints ply a Southern gothic-stoked blend of newgrass, roots rock, honky-tonk and country music as led by guitarist/vocalist Jamie Barrier and...Read more
'All Species, One Earth' celebration SaturdayAmes Tribune, April 23rd
Wood is an award-winning children's author and musician who composes and performs music for 12-string guitar, banjo, mandolin and keyboards. He lives in north-central Minnesota. He will be joined by his band, which includes his son, Bryan, on bass, and ...Read more
Right place – right time for guitar-driven jazz, rock, rhythm 'n' bluesWorcester Telegram, April 23rd
In addition to playing with his band, the musical institution that is Marquis will play a few solo acoustic numbers including the Beatles' "Lady Madonna" on a 12-string guitar and "Blackbird," as a duet with his 19-year-old singer-pianist Lizzy Marquis...Read more
'Lead Belly at 125' brings big-name musicians to folk singer tributeWashington Times, April 22nd
A year later, Lead Belly had finished serving his sentence and was performing in New York on his 12-string guitar, often wearing prison stripes to promote an image. Hundreds of his folk standards, such as “Goodnight, Irene,” “Ain't Gonna Study War No...Read more
Music in her heartStockton Record, April 22nd
“I really love Randy's music,” said Lind, who plays a 12-string guitar. “I'm just in awe when I hear his music. No one writes like that man. “In the studio, songs take on own their own life. You use a piano and it opens a music box and a little...Read more
Trio of duos to perform at Merry Mischief's Celtic Ceilidh at APTAuburn Citizen, April 22nd
Comprised of Merlyn and Wayne "Harry" Fuller, Merry Mischief is a regular fixture at the Sterling Renaissance Festival, with her singing alto and playing 12-string guitar, plus mandolin and bodhran. He finger-picks the six-string and sings, as well...Read more
Largo Cultural Center welcomes guitarist Ewan DobsonTampa Bay Newspapers, April 20th
LARGO – One of Canada's most brilliant and breathtaking guitarists is in the middle of a three-month North American Tour that will bring him to the Tampa Bay area. Virtuoso guitarist Ewan Dobson will perform Saturday, April 25, 8 p.m., at Largo...Read more
12-String Setup SecretsPremier Guitar, February 9th
A handful of musicians have built their careers around the 12-string guitar—Lead Belly, Leo Kottke, and Roger McGuinn come to mind—but for most guitarists, an electric or acoustic 12-string is a specialty instrument to be hauled out when a song needs...Read more